What is the meaning of "Meaning"­­? Thu, Mar 6, 6:30 pm, Cafe Philo

Join us for two hours of "cafe-style" philosophizing over dinner.

Hosted by Bernard Roy, founder, 15th year of hosting "cafe-style" philosophy conversations.

Moderated by Jack.











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  • Jack K.

    "inner yearning for meaning"

    I suspect that type of person will not be satisfied with a paperback dictionary. Maybe they need the OED! (Okay, just kidding.)

    So, what part of the human psyche is it that has this yearning for this nebulous thing called meaning?

    March 6, 2014

  • Jack K.

    I wonder what the neuroscientists would say about where and how meaning occurs in the brain, both the simple reference type of meaning and the deeper psychological form of meaning.

    And what purpose does meaning have in the human mind?

    March 5, 2014

  • Jack K.

    From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the distinction between a semantic theory of meaning and a foundational theory of meaning:

    One sort of theory of meaning—a semantic theory—is a specification of the meanings of the words and sentences of some symbol system. Semantic theories thus answer the question, ‘What is the meaning of this or that expression?’

    A distinct sort of theory—a foundational theory of meaning—tries to explain what about some person or group gives the symbols of their language the meanings that they have.

    To be sure, the shape of a correct semantic theory may place constraints on the correct foundational theory of meaning, or vice versa; but that does not change the fact that semantic theories and foundational theories are simply different sorts of theories, designed to answer different questions.


    March 4, 2014

  • Jack K.

    The wikipedia also gives some related topics for meaning:

    See also

    Semantics, the study of meaning
    Hermeneutics, the theory of text interpretation
    Linguistics, the scientific study of language
    Logotherapy, psychotherapy based on an existential analysis
    Ontology, the philosophical study of the nature of existence or reality
    Truth, accordance with fact or reality, or fidelity to an ideal
    Meant to Be (disambiguation)
    Proposition (disambiguation)
    Notion (disambiguation)
    Significance (disambiguation)


    March 4, 2014

  • Jack K.

    The wikipedia gives a richer sense of the meaning of meaning on its disambiguation page:

    Meaning may refer to:

    Meaning (existential), the worth of life in contemporary existentialism
    Meaning (linguistics), meaning which is communicated through the use of language
    Meaning (non-linguistic), a general term of art to capture senses of the word "meaning", independent from its linguistic uses
    Meaning (philosophy of language), definition, elements, and types of meaning discussed in philosophy
    Meaning (psychology), epistemological position, in psychology as well as philosophy, linguistics, semiotics and sociology
    Meaning (semiotics), the distribution of signs in sign relations
    The meaning of life, a notion concerning the nature of human existence


    March 4, 2014

  • Jack K.

    The dictionary has a rather simplistic definition for meaning:

    1 a : the thing one intends to convey especially by language : purport
    b : the thing that is conveyed especially by language : import
    2: something meant or intended : aim <a mischievous meaning was apparent>
    3: significant quality; especially : implication of a hidden or special significance <a glance full of meaning>
    4 a : the logical connotation of a word or phrase
    b : the logical denotation or extension of a word or phrase


    But not much in terms of the human, subjective nature of meaning.

    March 4, 2014

  • Jack K.

    What does it signify when we say our lives have meaning?

    How can we tell?

    What does meaning look like?

    How can we sense meaning?

    How can we communicate about meaning?

    What qualities does meaning have?

    March 3, 2014

  • Jack K.

    Are we surrounded by meaning, is meaning all around us in everything we see and sense, or is meaning really only a mental construct that exists only in our minds?

    March 3, 2014

  • Jack K.

    Meaning can also be dependent on interpretation of an event or object, by particular subjects that observe the even or subject.

    There can be the impact of an event or object.

    There can be implications of an event or object.

    Interpretations, impacts, and implications can evolve over time, even for a specific individual or groups or for entire societies.

    March 3, 2014

  • Jack K.

    Okay, supposing that we achieve a handle on meaning, what are the scare quotes try to tell us: "meaning".

    Scare quotes have a number of uses and abuses:




    The simplest interpretation here would be that the quotes indicate that the contained text is referenced in a meta-linguistic sense (an object) rather than its usual grammatical interpretation. IOW, what is the meaning of the word/concept/term "meaning".

    Another relevant interpretation would be to express a sense of disbelief that the full depth and import of meaning can ever be reduced to a simple linguistic form, such as a concise dictionary or encyclopedia entry.

    And of course there can be many other meanings of "meaning".

    March 2, 2014

  • Jack K.

    What is the relationship between meaning and semantics?

    I think of semantics as more superficial and more of a language construct, while meaning can be much deeper and of course subjective.

    Then there is semiotics or semiosis and Peirce's concept of pragmatics and meaning as process.

    For example, see:

    March 2, 2014

  • Jack K.

    As in Popper's three-world model (the real world, the world as you see it within your mind, and the world of artifacts that represent meaning that we use to communicate about the world), we (might) have:

    1. The meaning of the world as it exists - even if we weren't here. It's meaning to nature, to itself, or to a God, if you will.

    2. The meaning of the world, as we each individually perceive it.

    3. The meaning of the world as it is communicated to us through speech, language, social constructs, art and music, etc.

    Is there a distinction between the meaning of the world to God and the meaning of the world to us?

    February 28, 2014

  • Jack K.

    How much of meaning is strictly intellectual and reasoned vs. based on feeling, emotion, and passion?

    Like "meaningful relationship" or "meaningless relationship"

    Or "play it with meaning".

    Or "He/She didn't mean it." or "didn't mean anything by it."

    Or "What is the meaning of life?" or "Does your life have meaning?" or "the search for meaning".

    What is the meaning of photography? What reaction does it elicit?

    February 28, 2014

  • Jack K.

    Three levels of meaning that personally interest me:

    1. Reference - what exactly does a term refer to. What is included and what is excluded.

    2. Objective or consensus meaning - what significance does something have to average or normal or most people. How does it matter to anybody. And how meaning is used and communicated through language.

    3. Subjective significance - what does something mean to me (or you) at a personal level.

    I suppose I should add a fourth category:

    4. Historical significance - societies and civilizations evolve and change dramatically. The answers for #1, #2, and #3 could be very different for a society displaced by a significant passage of time, whether by eons, millennia, centuries, or even decades or just a few years.

    And a fifth:

    5. Cultural significance - each social grouping may have radically differing views about meaning, at both
    the personal and social levels.

    February 26, 2014

  • Jack K.

    How far does the dictionary get us with meaning? Granted, not far and fairly superficial, but at least it gets us started and provides some objective basis for communications.

    The dictionary concept of "sense" and its wide usage informs us that context matters greatly when inquiring about meaning.

    February 25, 2014

  • Jack K.

    How much of meaning is subjective and how much is or can be objective?

    You could argue that meaning is 100% subjective, except than then we would not be able to communicate about meaning with each other.

    February 25, 2014

  • Jack K.

    The topic selected for discussion is:

    What is the meaning of "meaning"?

    February 20, 2014

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